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The Real Reason These BioWare Contractors Are Unionizing

While the long wait for BioWare's next game can feel excruciating, it seems that some contractors working with the developer have it much worse. In an attempt to better their working conditions, a group of QA contractors have unionized. This news follows hot on the heels of the Activision Blizzard union that Raven Software's own QA testers carried out during the first part of this year. That union was directed specifically at Activision Blizzard, but the union that has formed in this case isn't actually directed at BioWare. 

Speaking to Game Developer, the spokesperson for the QA union said, "Our main grievances are with Keywords Studios." Keywords Studios is an external video game development partner that lends the services of its employees to game studios. The union was formed as a result of these workers "struggling to make ends meet." According to their spokesperson, "[That] needs to change, or we cannot continue doing this work."

Low pay and expensive living

For those Keywords Studios contractors, minimum wage simply isn't enough to afford the cost of living. In Edmonton, Canada, where BioWare and the union workers are based, minimum wage is equivalent to $11 USD an hour. With the average rent in Edmonton nearing $1,000 a month — combined with inflated prices for food and other necessary expenses — the situation has grown bleak for this group of game developers. 

As direct employees of Keywords Studios rather than BioWare, they do not have the full list of benefits that BioWare staff enjoy. On top of that, it can't be easy to work alongside BioWare's in-house QA testers who reportedly take home double the pay. However, it would seem the straw that broke the camel's back was a recent requirement that all Keywords Studios QA testers return to working each day in the office despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Stranger still was the fact that this requirement allegedly was not given to every BioWare Edmonton worker.

It's too early to tell how the union will pan out for these individuals, but the group's spokesperson believes that they'll receive the necessary support from fellow Keywords Studios employees, allowing them to submit their union application to Alberta's Labour Relations Board. "You have the creative power and skills they need and you shouldn't be taken advantage of because you want to create passion-driven work."

The game that these QA testers are working on isn't public information at the moment, but it's likely "Dragon Age 4" as the new "Mass Effect" is farther away than we thought. While there isn't a release date currently in sight for Dragon Age 4, it will likely release sometime in 2023.